New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

What Is it about Science Experiments that Fascinates Children? The Role of Novelty and Intensity

Angelika Pahl, University College of Teacher Education Bern (Switzerland)

Reinhard Tschiesner, University College of Teacher Education Styria (Austria)


Teachers and researchers note an atmosphere of interest and joy when conducting hands-on science activities at primary schools. However, the question is, what is the reason for this evident fascination in children? A first answer that might generally be given by people who find themselves confronted with this question is that children simply are curious about the (natural) world around them. In this article we are going to give a more differentiated explanation for why children are so fascinated and why
certain science experiments might be more fascinating for some children than others. Obviously, the stimulus in form of the experiment itself is one elicitor of fascination, but what are the specific aspects and characteristics of an experiment that particularly appeal to children, with their individual needs?
We know from perceptual research that sensory stimuli lead to psychophysical activation. Wilhelm Wundt already explained that people differ in their preference of stimuli. He suggested that this
preference becomes obvious by the fact that different people prefer different degrees of intensity of stimuli. Later Jeffrey J. Arnett added “novelty” in his concept of stimuli preference. It can therefore be
stated that some people prefer novel and intense stimuli and other people prefer well-known stimuli and stimuli with a low intensity level.
In science lessons, especially at primary school, many teachers use everyday materials for carrying out science experiments with children. In most cases, objects from the living environment are wellknown
by the children. The pertinent question here is why science experiments with everyday materials elicit fascination in children even though the object itself is well-known. In order to adequately meet this question, we will present theories dealing with arousal and arousability in
connection with hands-on science activities in primary schools. We thus hope to gain a better understanding for the didactic shaping of science experiment settings by teachers for children of primary school age.
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